Buddha at Sarnath – Dharmachakra Pravartana: Sarnath Buddhism Pilgrimage

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Buddha at Sarnath: Sarnath Buddhism Pilgrimage

This image of the Buddha from Sarnath belonging to the late fifth century CE is housed in the site museum at Sarnath. It has been made in Chunar sandstone. The Buddha is shown seated on a throne in the padmasana. It represents Dhammachackra Pravartana as can be seen from the figures on the throne. The panel below the throne depicts a chakra (wheel) in the center and a deer on either side with his disciples. Thus, it is the representation of the historical event of dhamma chakra pravartana or the preaching of the dhamma.

This Buddha image is a fine example of the Sarnath school of sculpture. The body is slender and well-proportioned but slightly elongated. The outlines are delicate, very rhythmic. Folded legs are expanded in order to create a visual balance in the picture space. Drapery clings to the body and is transparent to create the effect of integrated volume. The face is round, the eyes are half-closed, the lower lip is protruding, and the roundness of the cheeks has reduced as compared to the earlier images from the Kushana Period at Mathura.

The hands are shown in Dhammachakrapravartana mudra placed just below the chest. the neck is slightly elongated with two incised lines indicating folds. The ushanisha has circular curled hairs. The aim of the sculptors in ancient India had always been to represent the Buddha as a great human being who achieved Nibbana (i.e., cessation of anger and hate). The back of the throne is profusely decorated with different motifs of flowers and creepers placed in a concentric circle.

The central part of the halo is plain without any decoration. It makes the halo visually impressive. Decoration in the halo and the back of the throne indicates the artisan’s sensitivity. Sarnath Buddha images of this period show considerable softness in the treatment of the surface and volume. Transparent drapery becomes part of the physical body. Such refinement comes over a period of time and these features continued in subsequent periods.

There are many other Buddha images in the standing position from Sarnath having features like transparent drapery, subtle movement, carved separately and placed about the memorial stupas around the Dharmarajika Stupa. These images are now preserved in the Sarnath Museum. They are either single or with the attendant figures of Boddhisattvas, Padmapani, and Vajrapani.

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